Thursday, September 29, 2005

Meditation, Happiness and Mind Control

Once upon a time there was a martial arts practitioner -- me.

In the martial art I practice(d), meditation is done standing. The thighs are bent so that all the weight is absorbed by the leg muscles. In addition to dealing with the shaking legs and burnt muscle sensation, one is supposed to also clear his/her mind and focus on some distant point (there's more to it but I'm giving you the quick version).

To be honest, I hated it. Not so much because of the rigorous stance but more because I had a hard time "clearing my mind" and because, truth be told, I'd get bored. However, it's been nearly two years since I stopped practicing and I miss it terribly. More and more each day. I can't explain why I miss it, or what it is that I miss about it most. I also can't explain what is different about me when I practice (other than not having any bruises from sparring) than when I don't. I just know/feel that I miss it.

Uploaded on February 7, 2005
by ze1

Then, a while back, I watched a show - The Pursuit of Happiness - where, among other things, they checked brain waves of Tibetan Monks(they meditate a lot). The brain waves showed that the monks were happy. Very happy.

It's very preliminary work, but the implication may be that the lamas are able to move right through distressing events that overwhelm the rest of us – in other words, one of the keys to their happiness.

It may tell us something about our potential. "Our brains are adaptable, our brains are not fixed. The wiring in our brains is not fixed. Who we are today is not necessarily who we have to end up being," Davidson says.
"Rather than thinking about qualities like happiness as a trait," Davidson says, "we should think about them as a skill, not unlike a motor skill, like bicycle riding or skiing. These are skills that can be trained. I think it is just unambiguously the case that happiness is not a luxury for our culture but it is a necessity."

About the same time I also came across this article in Nature about mind focusing as a result of meditation, again, of Tibetan Monks. (Alas, the article is now restricted to paying customers so here is another source for the same article.)

Meditation could conceivably help people with depression, or who have recently suffered a trauma, to stop their minds constantly dwelling on negative thoughts, she suggests.

"It has long been claimed by practitioners of meditation that when faced with bad news or tragic events they are able to acknowledge the tragedy, but rather than dwell on the situation they have the capacity to redirect their thoughts to other, more positive directions," Carter says. "This is something that the average person cannot do."

Happiness comes easily when you're open to it
Uploaded on March 13, 2005
by OpenEye

I, personally, always thought that the mind is something we can control and exercise more than we think. If we're down, we can make ourselves 'up' by positive thinking, if we're obsessed and/or worried we can calm ourselves by being occupied. The trick is not to get dragged down by emotions and not to let them control you. It's not easy to accomplish, and one needs to practice this a lot, but it is possible as the monks demonstrate.

What does that have to do with writing? I think everything in life has to do with writing, but I also think I wrote better and more when I was practicing.

My point? I have many: First, I think that despite my already existing scheduling problems, I'll go back to practicing my art this fall - obviously I miss meditating. Second, I'm going to control my mind into writing now. Last, I'm a true believer in happiness. Most times I'm happy because I choose to be. I think most people can be too. If with meditation, prayer or physical activity. Anything that can focus a mind is a good practice. More than anything, I'm a happiness practitioner.

[[A note: Meditating isn't practicing another religion. One can be of any faith and meditate, it isn't against any religious 'law' as far as I know.]]

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Virginia said...

Hello Melly.
I like the way think, but have no idea who you are! I see you are a writer. Care to share?

Melly said...

Hi Virgina. I'm not sure what you want to know really. Give me a hand here, will ya? :)

Virginia said...

Hey there.
Either my cold has made me stupider than I expected, or you don't have a profile up. You write scifi?

Melly said...

virginia, I'm way stupider.
1. I forgot to thank you before.
2. I misspelled your name before - I apologize.

Yes, I guess you can call what I write sci-fi. It's a mainstream hard sci-fi.

Anyway, here's my profile page: melly

rdl said...

Great post. I've had the pursuit of happiness sitting on my night table for a couple of months and have owned it for more than a couple of years. I guess i am hoping i will get it my osmosis.
Just wanted to tell you that you are moving up my list of favorite blogs. When i can figure out how to link i'd like to add you.

Terry said...

Hi Melly, the closest I come to meditating is when I'm trying yoga basics to stretch my aching back, or when I'm munching through a feast of bacon. mmmm...bacon....

Melly said...

Thanks rdl. Osmosis, ummm, let me know if it works ;)
(btw, if you need help with bloggy/html stuff I can help.)

Terry, oooh, yoga for back aches is awesome.
If I was doing any kind of mantra meditation then this would definitely be mine - "mmmm...bacon...." :)

Theriomorph said...

Lovely post, Melly. Just discovered your site through Garnet at GlitteringMuse, and I'm enjoying it, thanks.

As a newcomer to martial arts, I too find that it supports my writing. As you've written here, it takes indirect routes, somtimes, but it changes my chemistry, literally, and makes new pathways, which can only support the creative life, I think.

Chi's powerful stuff to work with, and our culture doesn't deal with aggression in any kind of healthy way, so working with those two things while apparently focusing elsewhere (on the burning muscles, the sparring bruises), has been a huge gift for me.

Look forward to reading more of your blog.

Melly said...

Hi there Jessamyn.
Thanks for visiting.
Oh, you put it so well I might just have to quote you.
I know a few writers who practice some form of martial art or another to quite high levels too.
Unfortunatley, I had to stop for a while due to injury and then life happened and... you know how it is.

rdl said...

i'd love to take you up on the offer of help. someone helped me to put the few links i do have on and I still dont know how to do it by reading the bloggers directions, ive tried.

Melly said...

No prob rdl.
Send me an email (so that I can have your email address) and we can start.

allkindsmelly AT

Anonymous said...

Martial Artist, Writer, Zen Computer Tech :o) I really enjoyed this post. i don't meditate but my son does. He's a Martail Artist too. What is your discipline? (sp?)

Melly said...

Oh, I'm afraid I gave the wrong impression. They're all my "wannabees," but I'm trying.

I think that martial arts is one of the best things kids can do. It gives them so much, especially balance and self-confidence. I'd recommend everybody to send their kids to study martial-arts, any kind (I mean, not with a crazed gung-ho teacher, but with a good one).

Oh, and thank you :)

Lee Carlon said...

'I think everything in life has to do with writing'

I couldn't agree more.

I used to meditate, but haven't for a while, I'll have to get back into that. And the pursuit of happiness thing, I think more people really should put more focus on this in their lives. I do, and am often considered to be quite odd for it, but I just can't understand why more people don't.

I also think the human brian is capable of so much more than we actually use it for.

Anyway, great post, I could comment more, but I'd only be repeating what you've already said.

Melly said...

Thanks Lee. Means a lot :)

Yes, I don't know why, but people sometimes seem as if they insist on being miserable.

There's also this new research about the brain - they think it's still a work-in-progress from an evolutionary stand point.

Trée said...

Melly, about five years ago I went through a period of pain and suffering beyond anything I had experienced before. In my search for relief, both physical and mental I discovered yoga and meditation. Those two disciplines saved me. Once life was "good" again I stopped doing both. Like you, I miss them. Why did I stop? I've no clue. I need to revisit my old friends. Thanks for the post.

Trée said...

Plasticity, the quality of always being able to change, or in the case of the brain, to always be able to form new connections, to grow. I like this concept.

melly said...

Brilliant Trée - plasticity.

Of course I know many who are actually rather elastic people :)

My difficult times happened after I stopped practicing, but not too long after, so I think it still had the effect of helping me get through my rough times.
Also, I think that once you start meditating, you don't really forget much. It remains in you, this ability to focus. I think.